Huge!

Mercy Center Labyrintha reflection by Rev. Michael Patrick Ellard

“Would you like to deadhead some flowers? Or would you like to rake some leaves in the labyrinth?” My guide radiated enthusiasm as she whispered to me, “Raking leaves in the labyrinth, that’s really huge!”

To be honest, I was thinking that deadheading flowers sounded like a lot more fun, but I didn’t say so. I was on a five-day silent retreat, with group meditation starting at 6:30am and continuing throughout the day until 9:00pm. We had been asked not to speak or read for the entire time, and to not even greet each other silently when we passed in the hall.  As part of the retreat, there was an opportunity to work in the garden for an hour each day, and I had shown up dutifully for my shift.

Gardening was a new feature of the retreats, and it was clear that my guide wanted this to be the best hour of gardening at a meditation intensive that I had ever had.  So would it be flowers or the labyrinth?  She looked to me for a response, but to no avail. I had firmly resolved that I was not going to give her any guidance whatsoever.

It wasn’t just that I was on a silent retreat. I am sure that I could have come up with a meaningful pantomime to convey that although raking leaves in the labyrinth might be huge, clipping dead flowers would be even more huge for me. But I was on retreat from a world where I needed to be in charge, make decisions, have thoughtful opinions, and organize things.  I was glad to be in a place where I could surrender any illusion that I was in control, and simply follow the schedule of prayer, work and worship that was set for me.

My guide looked me up and down hopefully, and then became cheerfully decisive. “Let’s have you rake some leaves in the labyrinth then! You’ll like that!”

The labyrinth is beautiful and serene. It has a circuitous trail that winds back and forth until it reaches a striking monument of unhewn stone – a remarkable blue-green pillar of serpentine. It stands there as if to say, “After all the twistings and turnings of your journey, here you are. Now stay a while before you resume your time on the path.”

The golden light of the sun streamed down through the overhanging tree branches, illuminating the path with spots of light and shadow. A cool breeze rose and fell, dropping still more leaves on the path that I had cleared and reminding me of the impermanence of my work.

Five gallons of leaves later, our time was up and we returned to our meditation. I had made no noticeable change in the world, thought no great thoughts, made no significant decisions, and done essentially nothing noteworthy. And that, for me, was really huge!

This reflection was originally published as part of MCC San Jose’s weekly reflection series. Please click the following link for more information about MCC San Jose’s weekly reflections.

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